Alcohol Use Disorder in Adults


ICD-10 codes: Mild F10.10; Moderate to severe F10.20

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is part of a cluster of often co-occurring diagnoses called the substance-related and addictive disorders.  Substance use disorders are a group of psychiatric conditions that include:

  • Tobacco use disorder
  • Cannabis use disorder (i.e., marijuana)
  • Stimulant use disorder (e.g., cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, amphetamines)
  • Opioid use disorder (e.g., heroin, prescription painkillers)
  • Hallucinogen use disorder (e.g., LSD, PCP, ecstasy/MDMA, psilocybin)

These disorders are characterized by recurrent use of alcohol and/or other substances that causes significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home.  Individuals with substance use disorders have difficulty controlling their intake of alcohol or other drugs, trouble with social functioning, risky use and/or use that leads to risky situations, and pharmacological changes such as increased tolerance to alcohol and drugs and symptoms of withdrawal when they do not use substances. In addition, individuals with substance use disorders find it is very difficult to change their substance use despite negative consequences of their use and the desire to make changes. The severity of a substance use disorder – mild, moderate, or severe – is based on the number of criteria met.

What is alcohol use disorder?

AUD is a psychiatric disorder that affects approximately 7% of adults in the United States. AUD is a problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least two of the following, occurring within a 12-month period:

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Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder and the related problem of binge drinking

Many people begin drinking at a young age. Slightly more than half of Americans (56%) report drinking alcohol in the past month, while about a quarter (25%) report binge drinking in the past month.

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Acute Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol is classified as a depressant, which slows down vital functions (resulting in slurred speech, unsteady movement, disturbed perceptions and an inability to react quickly). Alcohol has significant impact on the mind, reducing the ability to exercise normal judgment and think rationally. Although considered a depressant, when consumed in small to moderate quantities, alcohol may produce stimulant effects. Many people find that initially, alcohol may help them to “loosen up” in social situations; over time, however, with heavier and/or problematic use, depressant effects of alcohol can become more prominent.

How is alcohol use disorder treated?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggest that the following behavioral treatments have been found effective:

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